Does Feminism Have a Future?

This week at Stanford University, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research celebrates the 40th anniversary of Ms. Magazine with a series of lectures and activities. Some of these include a screening of The Education of Shelby Knox, with a discussion with Shelby afterwards; a panel with Ms. editors about the role the magazine has played over the years; and a talk by feminist poet Alicia Ostriker. Through the symposium, the Institute hopes to discuss three questions: where is feminism today, where is it headed, and where should it be headed? These are not trivial questions. Today, many Americans think of “feminists” as 1970s bra burners. Many women fear to identify with identify with the term. And others think that gender discrimination no longer exists, at least not on a widespread scale. Justice Scalia’s opinion in Dukes v. Walmart is an unfortunate example of the latter. So, where do we go from here? How do we continue to strive for equality in the face of apathy and disbelief? Not from young women, but from those most invested in the status quo? Although I did not agree with all aspects of the SlutWalk movement, it brought lots of new faces to the table. We should keep them there. Why did the movement’s energy dissipate after the summer? How can we bring it back? Occupy Wall Street changed the fall discourse from the Republican social agenda to the economy. Again, this brought new faces to the table. Although this table did not focus on women’s issues, the new faces could be solid allies. The change of discourse also helped women by taking some momentum away from anti-choice leaders. Both events resulted in a new set of allies. Of course I also value the men and women already fighting for feminists. But there are too few of us (see above), and our views are somehow always seen as too extreme. Bringing in partners will make our issues more accessible and perhaps more palatable to the 99%. Competition and infighting also distract the feminist community. These traits will arise in any group where so many people have invested so much time. But I wish we could keep our larger goals in mind and minimize the conflicts. They only substantiate the stereotype that women can’t get along with each other. I don’t know what the future of feminism holds. I don’t always think that I want to be a part of it. But every day, I remember how relevant it is—when I see sexist advertising, sexist policies, and women pushed out of politics. But I hope that we will be able to find and retain new allies as we did in 2011. I want us to be having a Ms. @ 80 conversation forty years from now—and some days, I just don’t see that happening.   Note: Gloria Steinem will be speaking this evening as part of the Ms. @ 40 symposium at 7:30pm PST. Her talk will be streaming online at http://kzsulive.stanford.edu/ and live blogged by the Clayman Institute.

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